Behind the print: "The Picnickers"

Jennie Ing specialises in linocuts of London scenes. She talks about how she translates a complex subject into print, choosing colour layers, and how “The Picnickers” was inspired by a perfect summer evening she didn’t want to end.


"The Picnickers", reduction linocut, by Jennie Ing
Jennie Ing and the 1847 Hopkinson & Cope Albion Press

Why did you decide to make this print? Did it stem from a particular experience?

Hampton Court Palace holds a series of open-air concerts in the spectacular and iconic Tudor courtyard each summer, and picnics are enjoyed beforehand in the beautiful East Front Gardens, which is the setting for this print. “The Picnickers” was inspired by a particular evening there a year or two ago. We like to go to something there every year, but that evening, we were blessed with such perfect weather and so enjoyed relaxing in such beautiful surroundings that I felt I wanted to stop time a little longer. The print idea had taken seed, but it took a while for it to grow. I had some sketches from that evening and some photographs taken then and later.


How do you reduce the complex elements of London scenes into something that will work well as a linocut?

Sometimes I decide on an image to work into a print and know exactly what I’m going to do. But at other times, I mull it around in my head a long while before starting work, deciding what needs to go in to make sense of the image and what can be left out or simplified. I have a tendency to be “fussy”, so I have to keep reminding myself to keep it simple.


Jennie's sketchbook drawing for "The Picnickers"

Before transferring to lino, I always draw the image out in my sketchbook to the size I want the finished print to be. This is a good decision-making time, not only for the composition but also for the relevant detail and colour and, very importantly, the order I will layer up the print.


What technique do you use to make your linocut prints?

I work through the reduction process, which is amethod of block printing in which each colour layer is taken from the same block. More lino is removed from the block for each layer, and each colour is printed on top of the last. The whole edition has to be completed at the same time, as there’s no going back once the next layer is cut.


Jennie's lino and tools

I use battleship grey lino, which is specially prepared for artists’ use. It’s similar to floor lino but easier to cut, and it holds fine detail well. I have a set of Japanese lino/wood-cutting tools and a few Swiss-made Pfeil tools too.


How do you plan all the different layers out?

Sometimes I restrict myself to only three or four colour layers. With these prints, I usually choose a colour for the first layer, say orange, which often acts as background, and go with something very contrasting to work in two or three shades for the rest of the print. For other prints, usually my larger ones (though none are very big), I might use more colours and I have to think very carefully about what will work with the overprinting. The wrong order – despite making my colours opaque – could end up very muddy-looking.


The six different colour layers of "The Picnickers". The same lino block is carved after each colour is printed
The lino in the registration block

I use a registration block (see left) to line up the layers. The lino block sits into a lower right angle and the paper sits into a raised right angle. I only need to register with one corner. If I get that right, the rest will look after itself. Even though I’m very careful, the registration does sometimes go slightly out and the bigger the print, the more noticeable that is. So I always make a few extra prints to the edition size I want, just in case.


Colour is an important element in your work. How do you go about choosing colours? What do you think different colours bring to the work?

I like working with colour and particularly like bright, bold colours. The beauty of printmaking is that you can try different colourways. Lino lends itself to this perfectly. I don’t do it so much now, but for a long while, particularly with my smaller prints, I would print the same image in different colours. It would suit different moods and give me more variety in a display at a show. Sometimes I’d like to hang a row of the same print in the different colours, very Warhol-like. With the larger and more complex prints, I only do one colour version.


A light green blend being prepared for the sixth colour layer, showing the inked block

A lot of your prints feature London buildings, or London scenes with people. Why do you think you’re drawn to these subjects?

I’m interested in different architectural styles and do like the urban landscape. I think this is much to do with that this is where I live (in south-west London). I spend a lot of time in London and bring this to my work.


I’m finding more and more that I’m concentrating less on solely depicting a building and I’m making a scene and adding people. They are significant to the action in the image. Sometimes I pop myself in, or my family or friends. In “The Picnickers”, I’m an observer, along with the other viewers of the scene.


A print being peeled back after the dark green layer

Is there anything you learned while making this print that you will use in your future work?

I always wonder if I should have done this or could have done that whenever I make a print. There are so many decisions and any number of possibilities. I almost always have an idea to bring to a future piece. With this one, I think I would be in the image with my husband, enjoying our picnic too!


Jennie Ing has a special showcase of her work at Greenwich Printmakers as our featured artist until March 29, and her bright, bold linocuts are available in the gallery all year round.